Soccer

Why are the last matches in each World Cup group played at the same time?

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Iran's Omid Ebrahimi challenge for the ball during Monday's Group B World Cup match. This was played at the same time as the other remaining Group B match, Spain vs. Morocco, because of what happened at the 1982 World Cup
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Iran's Omid Ebrahimi challenge for the ball during Monday's Group B World Cup match. This was played at the same time as the other remaining Group B match, Spain vs. Morocco, because of what happened at the 1982 World Cup Associated Press

Each World Cup begins with daily batches of games served one right after the other, perfect for singular focus and binge watching. Until the last games of group play, which will be played Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Then, each group's final games are played at the same time. So, it requires two screens or some dextrous handling of a remote control if you want to watch, say, Argentina-Nigeria while keeping an eye on Croatia-Iceland Tuesday afternoon.

Blame Germany and Austria. Or, rather, West Germany and Austria.

The first game of Group 2 in the 1982 World Cup matched one of the pre-tournament favorites, West Germany, against Algeria. Most people anticipated the Germans could name their score, as was usually the case in those days when a traditional soccer power faced an African nation.

False, as they certainly wouldn't have chosen "Algeria 2, West Germany 1." Algeria's willingness to use their speed in an open style produced one of the great upsets in World Cup history on goals by Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi. Algeria took the two points then awarded for a win (changed to three points after the devastatingly dull 1990 World Cup).

As Group 2 play continued, in order, Austria beat Chile, 1-0; West Germany rebounded to pound Chile, 4-1; Austria beat Algeria, 2-0; and Algeria beat Chile, 3-2 in a game they led 3-0 at halftime.

Those two second-half goals by Chile proved important. With only West Germany vs. Austria left, Austria and Algeria had four points, but Austria had a better goal differential, plus three (3-0) compared to Algeria's even (3-3). West Germany had two points and a plus two goal differential (5-3).

West Germany needed to beat Austria to get out of the group. Austria just needed to not lose by three or more. Algeria needed either an Austria win or a West Germany rout.

And the Algerians had hope when West Germany's Horst Hrubesch struck in the 11th minute for a 1-0 lead. But, not long after that, the European neighbors knocked around the ball with few attacks. As reported in The Guardian's review of the controversy, the intensity dropped such that the two teams combined for three shots the entire second half and had a pass-completion ratio over 90 percent.

West Germany won 1-0, allowing both teams to move to the next round.

Sports Illustrated ran a photo of angry Algerian fans in the Sporting Gijoin's ancient El Molinon stadium waving cash in cynical commentary. More direct disgust showered both teams from their home media, starting with the television play-by-play men during the match. Germans call it the "Disgrace at Gijon."

Afterward, FIFA decreed the last games of a group's play at major tournaments would be played simultaneously.

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